Deepwater's Public Benefits Package Hangs in the Balance
A community benefits package hangs in the balance as the East Hampton Town Board and town trustees prepare to host a joint hearing next Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on Deepwater Wind's plan to construct a 15-turbine wind farm approximately 36 miles east of Montauk.
Deepwater Wind plans to submit an application to construct the 90-megawatt South Fork Wind Farm to the State Public Service Commission next month, according to its vice president of development. It is seeking easements from the trustees to land the wind farm's transmission cable beneath the ocean beach at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott, and from the town board to bury the cable in the public road right of way on a path to a Long Island Power Authority substation in East Hampton.
The Rhode Island company has offered a package of community benefits in exchange for those rights, and will include that plan in its application to the Public Service Commission, provided the easements are granted. Should the real estate rights be denied, Deepwater Wind would proceed with a plan to land the cable on state-owned property at Hither Hills, Clint Plummer of Deepwater Wind confirmed yesterday, an option the company's officials have previously implied. The community benefits package would be withdrawn, Mr. Plummer said.
The benefits package at present includes paying for the burial of overhead utility lines in Wainscott, a $2 million ocean industries sustainability program, a $1 million inshore fisheries assistance fund, a $1 million Wainscott water infrastructure fund, a $200,000 energy sustainability and resiliency fund for the town, $75,000 per year for the life of the wind farm to a marine infrastructure and management fund, and establishment of an operations and maintenance facility in Montauk, with attendant job opportunities, over the project's 25-year lifespan.
A quorum of the trustees, who had asked for a more extensive package of benefits from Deepwater Wind in February, held a special meeting on Monday to approve next Thursday's joint hearing. They also formalized a cautious approach to negotiations over the landing of the transmission cable. The hearing will be at LTV Studios in Wainscott to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd.
In moving to hold the joint hearing with the town, the trustees, who have jurisdiction over most of the town's common lands, including beaches, indicated that they would consider whether to grant a lease, as opposed to an easement, to allow Deepwater Wind to land the transmission cable in Wainscott.
"When we spoke about this earlier, we were concerned about the use of the word easement for the beach portion," Rick Drew, a deputy clerk of the trustees, said on Monday. The trustees "had come at least to a consensus that we were more comfortable with a lease as a document to be considered for this, that an easement inferred some perpetual rights to the property and might give the trustees less control" should the wind farm be constructed and its transmission cable landed on town property.
Mr. Carillo agreed that the trustees would be better able to control any future activity at the site, such as maintenance or repair, by executing a lease with, rather than granting an easement to, Deepwater Wind. He echoed Mr. Drew's statement that "easement" implies a more perpetual grant of right, whereas the terms of a lease can be modified.
The five trustees present and Christopher Carillo, the governing body's attorney, said that they are acting on the belief that they must apply for Article VII intervener status with the Public Service Commission within 30 days of the wind farm developer's application. The trustees intend to retain special counsel to represent them in the matter.
Article VII is a public review process under the state public service law for any application to construct and operate a major electric transmission facility or fuel gas transmission facility. It requires a review of the need for, and environmental impact of, the siting, design, construction, and operation of such facilities. Although it allows residents to participate in the review process, the commission makes the final decision regarding all applications. The trustees first announced their intention to apply for intervener status in February.
Much information remains to be gathered with respect to the commission and its review process, Mr. Carillo said. But the trustees have been unable to meet with Anthony Tohill, an attorney whom they have previously retained for legal matters, Mr. Drew said. "We would like to do that with him as soon as possible," he said.
"We have some big discussions in the near future," Mr. Drew said, referring to the upcoming joint hearing and the expectation that many proponents and opponents of the wind farm would attend. "It should be a very spirited public hearing."
"There are a lot of people we haven't heard anything from yet," said Francis Bock, the trustees' clerk. "I hope they show up."
Mr. Carillo said that if the commission sees Deepwater Wind's application as controversial, an outcome he deemed likely, it would be assigned to an administrative judge, who would then oversee two main hearings, a public hearing and an evidentiary hearing for interveners, which he described as "a very formal process," including testimony, expert witnesses, and cross-examination. "We have two big cracks at this, to have as much impact as we can on this process," he said.
The process will move toward resolution, with the administrative judge rendering an opinion to the commission, which would be "required to weigh that pretty heavily in deciding whether or not this project goes forward," Mr. Carillo said.